Peakrill Press

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Our new house in the North Pennines, during Storm Arwen

2021 was a landmark year for us. After starting and ending a new job in Sheffield’s Moor Market at the end of 2020, I spent the year unemployed; the strangeness of COVID-19 bored on; and in June, we sold our house and left Sheffield, after 23 very happy years living there.

We did not have a new house to move to, and so spent two months driving around the country, staying with friends and relatives or sleeping in our little van. It was a fun time, but my back didn’t half suffer!

At the end of August we moved to our new forever home, Middlehope Lodge, bang in the horizontal middle of the country, not far below Scotland. Out on its own the countryside, no other houses in sight, with a (rather rickety) barn and outhouses plus a third-of-an-acre of garden, it’s remote. Or, as we like to call it, “on the edge of nowhere”: the nearest village, St John’s Chapel, is a little under 2 miles walk, and has 2 pubs, a café, a Co-op store, school, garage, doctor’s and ambulance station – all the essentials!

We’re also off-grid: when we moved in, electricity was solely provided by a 12v leisure battery, although we have since added solar panels: enough to pump our water, run a freezer, and charge laptops & phones. Plus there’s a generator for emergencies. It’s heated solely by a Rayburn and one wood-stove, (barely) powering two tiny radiators, and one half of the house rarely gets above the ouside temperature. We have no Internet (we can just about get a mobile signal, if atmospheric conditions are right, by leaning a phone up in the top-right corner of the bedroom window), no TV, and like to spend our evenings reading to one another and crafting (although Gill has taken to downloading films on her tablet). We love it!

There are hares and deer and rabbits and barn owls and kestrels all over the place, with red kites just over the hill. Moving to the countryside has been a lifelong dream for Gill, who spent happy childhood holidays at a family friend’s in the remote Scottish isle of Kerrera. And so here we are, with our chickens (and hopefully soon a new dog – our beloved Toto just made it into 2022, but sadly died a few days ago at the age of 13).

All of which means that life is quite a bit cheaper for us now, but I still need a job (in fact, neither of us has been working since we moved here). I’ve ruled out the tech industry, after a very messy situation at my former job a couple of years ago which made me realise that I am too old/tired/confused/mental/disillusioned/scared to work in the tech industry any more (although I half fancy training people to program), and my increasingly cranky bipolar disorder makes me feel like I can never stick out a “regular” job.

Salvation has, perhaps, come via a very unexpected route. As a kid, I was obsessed with roleplaying games: Dungeons & Dragons from the age of 10 and, subsequently, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I gave them up as a childish thing at the age of around 20, but my old books & zines have remained in the attic these subsequent 30 years.

During the first COVID lockdown, I had those old rulebooks out and was browsing through them and, with a lot of spare time on my hands, got the urge to start playing again. I was introduced to a bunch of folks half my age, and had the most wonderful fun playing D&D online with them. And as time passed, I got more and more drawn into the world of “tabletop roleplaying games”, reading blogs and eventually starting to write my own games content.

At the end of 2021 I took things a stage further, and joined a “zine jam”, SideQuest 2021. This involved setting up a Kickstarter to raise funds to publish my own zine (“Mostly Harmless Meetings – a zine of countryside encounters”; basically a list of vignettes which can be inserted into fantasy games, inspired by the flora, fauna and folklore of the English countryside). I’d budgeted £400 to cover printing and posting perhaps up to 50 magazines. Things took off far more than I’d expected, I ended up getting over 150 pledges for physical copies of the zine, and another 100 for the PDF – raising over £2100 in all. I estimate that, after costs, this will leave me with perhaps £1000 profit.

This got me thinking: if (and it’s a big if) I could manage something similar every 2 months, that would bring in £500 a month – not even minimum wage but, like I said, our outgoings are greatly reduced. Plus I may be able to scratch out some extra cash doing odd jobs (I recently helped a local farmer with shearing their sheep’s tails, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the idea of working outdoors appeals to me, after a lifetime sat at desks).

So I have taken the plunge and founded Peakrill Press. I’ve got 10 ISBNs and I intend to use them! Mostly Harmless Meetings will be my first publication, and I have a whole bunch of things already planned for 2021. In fact, since making that list I have added another planned zine: “nanodeities”, loosely inspired by Terry Pratchett’s novel Small Gods. Nanodeities will be a compendium of completely insignificant gods, goddesses and goddexxes. Each will have their own backstory and portrait – hopefully to be provided by Rich Tingley – and each will also have statistics for use in games such as D&D. The basics for each deity will be spewed out at random by my Twitter bot @deitygalaxy.

But before all of that, I have another Kickstarter launching at the beginning of February, Learning to Draw Trees…

Bodge magazine December, featuring my ancient yew

Throughout 2021 I had a monthly page in Bodge Magazine called Learning to Draw Trees. It was exactly that: one tree per month, with the hope that over the year I would get better at it. I did. Much better. And so my next zine/book is a collection of all 12 drawings, plus extra pictures and sketches, plus thoughts and advice based on what the project taught me. And, to keep the project gaming-adjacent and hopefully attract a few pledges from those TTRPGers, it contains a small pullout roleplaying game called You Are A Tree by Côme Martin.

Please sign up to be notified on the launch of the Learning to Draw Trees Kickstarter.

My tree drawings will also, hopefully, be another revenue stream. I had a couple of enquiries about buying prints last year, but wanted to keep that year purely for learning. Now that it’s 2022, I plan to produce prints, T-shirts, mugs – perhaps even sell the odd original, if my mum can bear not to have any of them on her wall. I’ve yet to figure out how all of that will work, watch this space!

So, after two years with no idea what I could do for the rest of my life, an answer seems to have come to me. One which makes me really, really happy. I do hope it works: financially, it’s not going to be easy, and I will appreciate any and all support that my friends can give: it would be especially helpful if you could share/cross-promote my Peakrill projects.

Like I said, watch this space. And perhaps also follow Peakrill Press on Twitter, and watch the Peakrill blog too. Thanks!

A Night in The Cummings Hotel

I know that very few people are interested in other people’s dreams – I’m rarely that bothered about them myself – but the other night I had the most intense and clear dream I’ve had in years, and so I’m sticking it up here mainly for my own records…

We were staying in a hotel: me, my wife, and my mum. At first it was a little poky, we were staying in a room with ancient decor off a landing half way up the stairs. Next door, out the back exit, was one of my favourite pubs, The Washington – except they had a wooden hut in the garden where they served, I dunno, southern US food, and pizzas. I popped in, bumped into a few friends, said hi, and told them I’d be coming back for a proper night out later on.

In the basement of the hotel itself there was some kind of a fascist disco going on. I gave that a wide berth.

And so to the hotel lobby, where most of the action happened, as I waited for Gill and mum to get ready, and for it to be late enough for them to contemplate going to the pub. The lobby was HUGE – perhaps a 300m and 100 deep. Lots of marble, gold handrails and glass panels alongside the frequent ramps up and down. The smooth, smooth floor was perfect for sliding on – in fact, I spent most of the dream on my knees, doing high-speed laps of the lobby – it was so frictionless that a quick push would keep you travelling for miles.

Dominic Cummings was in there, on the phone, looking very important and busy. I suspect that he had a stake in the hotel, or at least was heavily involved in its running. I would have liked to have spoken to him – douchebag that he is, I have a fascination with the man, and wanted to satisfy it. But he was always on the phone.

Also in the lobby were various hot and cold buffets. Near one side were fish and meat ones, which I didn’t try – I had a feeling that they were for some private event to which I wasn’t a party. At the back of the lobby closer to the middle was a vegetarian buffet, to which I kept returning. Opposite it, at the front of the lobby in the middle of a series of ramps up and down, an employee was sat on a chair with cans of beer scattered on a table next to him and the floor behind him. He was handing them out for free, and I felt a little guilty grabbing a fresh one every time I sped past on my knees, whilst other folks (the lobby was not crowded, but there were people milling around) just took one bottle or can each. The beers soon ran out – my fault, I guess, but I was skidding around to fast to apologise to the employee. I have a feeling they were his own personal beers that he’d been giving away, nothing to do with the hotel.

At some point I needed the toilet – at several points, in fact. This was where things seemed most weird to me. I often need the toilet in dreams, but every toilet I’ve ever visited in my sleep has been a nightmare of dirt and shit and decay and things falling apart and public humiliation and embarrassment. This toilet was stunning. Darker than the lobby, but with a similar anonymous gloss and style, it went back almost as deep as the lobby. It was unisex, the entrance was via some sort of antechamber where female scientists sat around the distant edges on computers. That briefly embarrassed me every time – women! In the toilet! Until I remembered that this was only the anteroom and the toilets themselves were way, way further back, very quiet and private (I don’t think I encountered another soul in there, or if I did then it was very cordial), and anyway the women were deep into their research, monitoring their monitors. Into the toilet itself, there was every type of toilet furniture I’m aware of, and many that I’m not. It just seemed ridiculously well equipped, and packed with gadgets while not being crowded. I was always moving too quickly to take in what any of them were, apart from the basics that I needed to use, but it was such a quiet and comfortable and relaxed and grand place, 10/10, best toilet experience ever.

Back out of the toilets and skidding around the lobby. Dom’s still busy, so I find some kind of public Internet terminal and try it out. In fact, I’ve been repeatedly trying to tweet on my phone, but I’m moving to fast, and every time I look down at the tiny screen I miss things around me, there’s so much going on (despite still not feeling too busy or crowded), and my phone takes me painfully out of the moment.

Perhaps I’d hoped to find a moment’s peace at the terminal, perhaps somewhere I could tweet more quickly using a keyboard. Instead though I found a video left by a previous resident (I think this was some kind of video terminal for recording guest testimonies?) She was desperate. She was trapped. Dominic Cummings had tricked and abused her. I looked around cautiously – how was I going to get her story out to the world, to help her and to reveal Cummings as the bastard he is? I tried to tweet the video directly from the terminal, but it was blocked from being sent on the internet, so I recorded video of it using my phone – fearful that at any moment I would be caught doing so. And again, I tried to tweet it – it was around this point when Gill and my mum turned up and started talking to me, and again I hadn’t a moment in which to send my tweet.

We walked together towards the other end of the lobby, but halfway across there was some commotion, and it turned out the royal family were emerging from somewhere deep in the hotel on their way out to waiting limousines. We almost collided with them, at which point Gill spotted some prince and princess, him around 8 and her around 3 – (I thought they must be Charles & Diana’s kids, but of course they’d be a generation younger). Gill shouted out “PRINCIES” at which point they turned and saw her and rushed into her arms crying “GIIIIIIIIILL!” I was a bit like “WTF, you never told me you’d been babysitting for the royal family”, but it was not a huge surprise – the kind of thing Gill would, of course, be brilliant at, and how natural that for those young kids Gill would be more of a hero than any member of their own family.

We found a long table to sit at – me, Gill, and mum – and chatted while we waited for it to be late enough to go to the pub. While we were doing so, and old (65-70ish) woman came to say hello to my mum – she looked like your nan, big plastic-framed specs and a fading yellow pullover. When mum asked her name she replied “Patsy Kensit” and I was gobsmacked. “Patsy… you grew up around Richmond, right?” I questioned her about many things – turns out I know a *lot* about Patsy Kensit, and I think mum thought I fancied her, I acted so interested, but instead I was just trying to make very polite and attentive conversation – plus I think I was also a bit proud of having netted a D-list celebrity. I know, right?

And it’s around that point, when I was still feigning massive interest in Patsy’s life, that I woke up and started to scribble all of this down.

SO… definitely some issues here around twitter addiction and my phone! But what the hell else was going on?

Fisch wird Mensch. Mensch wird Fisch! Mörder!

A Middle-Aged Man Returns to Viriconium

Vrico. Pastel City. The City, and the city, and city …of dreams.

I first came here as a young man. Seventeen. Through a portal in one of those London termini, I’d almost swear it was St Pancras. The old one of tunnels, caves, and condensation in huge waiting rooms. Except there was a bookshop, selling sci-fi.

Simon said “M John Harrison: he’s friends with Michael Moorcock. Or something.” I bought the book, we boarded a train. We crossed the sea to Amsterdam.

Uroconium. The City on the edge of the Western Sea. Canals, and pools, and streets with strange, familiar names. Genever in coffee shops and women at windows. Scarlet, black, neon. A city that wears its heart on its sleeve, but plays cards close to its chest.

I dreamt so many dreams, those seven Viriconium Nights.
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What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

AKA: why are there suddenly refugees everywhere, and when are they going to go away? (Hint: never)

This is a summary of the notes I took on the first day of the effect.org “Hacking the Refugee Crisis” expedition in Athens. More on that in a bit, but first…

Crisis, What Crisis?

Today, globally, there are 65 million displaced people. More than ever before.

Refugees have always existed. In the past, a country would go to war; people would be displaced; they’d spend a year or two as refugees; and eventually return home.

Today though, the problem is chronic. Global warming and permanent instability means displaced people no longer have homes to return to. Folks are born and grow up as refugees.
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Second-Hand Time

When I was small, I owned a plain-covered hardback book of Russian folk-tales. It was my most terrifying possession. It scared me, just to be in the same room as this collection of child-eating stepmothers, Baba Yagas, and terrors beyond imagination.

Second-Hand Time, by Svetlana Alexievich is that book, grown up. Alexievich transcribes the words of dozens of Russian and former-Soviet citizens she has interviewed. The result is a complex tapestry, with moments of beauty and joy, but overwhelmingly it tells of terror and torture and oppression and regret, played out over a scale of entire lifetimes. It is the most terrifying thing I have ever read.
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Thinking Digital Newcastle, 2016

Last year, I remember talking to Chris Dymond and Saul Cozens just after they returned from Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle/Gateshead. They raved about how good it was. So did others I’d seen mention it online. I decided to go the following year and, as the 2016 tickets were already on sale, I booked one more or less straight away.

It was as good as I’d hoped. And so, partly to remind myself of all I learned, partly to share it with colleagues and friends, and partly to persuade you to go in 2017, here are my notes on #TDC16:
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Vibrant Sheffield

I recently attended Grant Thornton’s Sheffield “Vibrant Economy” Live Lab at the Millennium Galleries.

This day-long workshop was intended to “bring together key leaders and influencers … to co-create a visionary identity for Sheffield and the wider city region”, posing the question “How can Sheffield become the innovation and creativity capital of Europe?”

It’s easy to by cynical (many of my friends are) about a swish event, laid on by a big financial consultancy firm, around a woolly, warm, fuzzy-sounding topic. But I like to approach things with an open mind. I have heard good things about Sacha Romanovitch, Grant Thornton’s new CEO, and the kind of right-thinking policies she’s implementing. I was sure it would at least be an interesting day.

It was. And it was inspiring. It generated reams of ideas — good, bad, intermediate, and plain silly — for the betterment of Sheffield. And, coming to it fresh from Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle/Gateshead, my mind was fully fired-up for some brainstorming and refining of big audacious plans.
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